More Australians trust Peter Costello’s
account of the 1994 leadership than the Prime Minister’s – but they want to
keep John Howard in his job, according to an ACNielsen poll in the Fairfax broadsheets
today.
They not only prefer Howard over Costello as PM; they’d also trust Kim Beazley
with the job over the Treasurer.

Well, trust us, there’s nothing new in this
poll. Crikey reported similar leadership findings in Friday’s Morgan Poll. This goes way, way back. Remember how the
PM kicked off his presser in 2004 when he announced the 2004 election date:

This election,
ladies and gentlemen, will be about trust. Who do you trust to keep the economy
strong and protect family living standards? Who do you trust to keep interest
rates low? Who do you trust to lead the fight on Australia’s
behalf against international terrorism? Who do you trust to keep the Budget
strong so that we can afford to spend more on health and education?

The election
will be about the future of this nation over the next ten years…

We can safely take it on trust that more
than a little bit of focus work effort went into finessing that message – and its
thrust is still relevant. As long as we trust John Howard with the economy and
our personal standards of living, we’re prepared to overlook those other matters
where he’s less reliable. The bloke’s a politician, after all.

But – take it on trust from us – there’s an
interesting new dynamic for the pollsters to examine. The Government’s
WorkChoices package could put an almighty crack between John Howard’s two key
strengths that will weaken his standing with electors.

How will voters react if they still think
that John Howard is the better economic manager – but worry about their own hip
pocket?

New qualitative research from Roy Morgan suggests that industrial relations, not the Liberal leadership, is the real
issue that voters are interested in. “There is a deep-seated concern and fear
among some electors as to how the new IR laws will affect their employment,”
Morgan CEO Michelle Levine says.

And if they don’t trust the Prime
Minister’s IR reassurances then trust us – the next election could be wide
open.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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